“To act dishonestly or unfairly to gain an advantage.”

Guess what.  Yeah, the Tour is about to begin.  (Actually, I got sidetracked.  It began yesterday.)  Not just any old Tour, The Tour.  That’s the next three weeks taken care of for me.  But, as sure as eggs is eggs, that also means there will be stories and talk of cheating.  More specifically, drugs.  Riders cheating by using banned substances.  Indeed, just a couple of days ago, news came of a rider testing positive for using EPO.  EPO, for Christ’s sake!  It’s as if we’ve slipped through a time tunnel.  Surely, nobody’s using EPO these days?  Let’s wait for the B sample.

Just to be clear, before I head off on this gentle ramble, I do not condone cheating in any way.  In cricketing terms, I was always proud to be a ‘walker’.  If I ever nicked the ball to the keeper, I knew I’d nicked the ball to the keeper, so I was out.  I walked.  If I had stood my ground and waited for the umpire to make a bad decision, and then I gone on to score a ton, I would never have been comfortable with that.  I was brought up to play hard, but play fair.

Pro cycling is still synonymous with drug cheats.  That’s a given.  My beef is that cycling is always, always, held up as the pre-eminent sport of the professional cheat.  My view is this is as unfair as it is mystifying.  I’m going to question this position by specific reference to football.  Yes, I know that there is history in athletics, in rugby, in tennis and pretty much every other sport, but I have a particular problem with the way we look at cheating.  Football, I think, is the best means of illustrating my case.

Take two specific footballing staples.  Diving in the penalty box and/or feigning injury.  There are countless examples of this kind of thing, but I’ve chosen a particular favourite:

Here’s the point.  Call it what you like, but this is blatant cheating.  Footballers are exceptionally skilled at “act[ing] dishonestly or unfairly to gain an advantage”, but football is never held up as a hotbed of cheating.  It’s often witnessed by thousands of spectators who have just paid the best part of a day’s wages to go and watch these preening prima donnas, but that’s okay, it’s all part of the game.  It’s often televised and seen by millions across the globe, often repeated ad infinitum in super slow-motion, but it’s okay, the referees will ensure fair play.  Still there’s no outrage, but put these blokes in lycra and stick ’em on a bike and they’d be pilloried until the cows come home.  How is it that cheating is okay if it’s there for all to see, but it’s not okay if it’s done in the privacy of a hotel room?  Footballers can influence the outcome of their matches by contriving to have a key member of the opposition booked and/or sent off, or by ‘going to ground’ in the penalty area.  Such influence could result in reaching a cup final, or a place in Europe next season, or promotion to the next league.  These are all very real possible outcomes.  They cheat because there is money at stake.  Often big money.

Cycling is essentially free to watch.  Go stand at the side of the road and watch a bunch of skinny fellas flash past in an instant, or watch it on ITV4.  It costs me nothing to watch cycling.  Why would I want to pay forty quid or more to go and watch ninety minutes of institutionalised cheating at any Premier League match?  Football is our (Britain’s) national sport, I think, so, it is reasonable to conclude that we are happy to turn a blind eye to cheating, week in and week out.  We are happy to pay to watch overpaid clowns cheating before our very eyes.  I simply don’t understand why there are different levels of cheating in the collective sports fans’ mindset.

I could go on about how the likes of Rooney or Beckham are, or have been, paid millions to play ninety, perhaps one hundred and eighty minutes of football in a week.  There are undoubtedly some well paid cyclists in the pro peloton, but your average Joe Domestique will be on a pretty modest wage by footballing standards.  The only common factor is that they are just doing what they do to make a living.  This brings me to the next issue.

I think it was Jacques Anquetil, a five-time winner of Le Tour, who spoke about cyclists making a living and maximising their earnings.  Compare this to, say, a city trader or a teacher.  A teacher is having a bad day and takes a few pills to relieve a headache.  There is no problem with that, surely?  The city trader is having an exceptional day and has made millions for his firm, who will undoubtedly give him a hefty bonus.  Some of that bonus will be spent on some more ‘chemical assistance’.  How else do you think said trader was so sharp in his dealings?  Even more of that bonus will go towards a night out watching the latest Hollywood Blockbuster, then the current chart-topper’s gig at Wembley Stadium before a more sedate trip to the National Gallery to catch the hit touring exhibition.  Robert Downey Jr, Keith Richards, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec.  They all have a history of drug abuse.  Nobody seems too bothered.  Arguably, their drug use improved their art, their creativity, their ability to get through a performance.  Whatever.  Artificial enhancement to boost their earning potential.

It’s all a bit mad.  We are bizarrely inconsistent in the way we perceive this particular human weakness.

Who fancies a song about cycling?  Yes, please.




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